I have been hearing the word “overwhelmed” in conversations with my Christian artist friends lately. I have found over the years that the word overwhelmed is a word that people use to describe a feeling of a great mental and emotional weight accompanied by anxiety. I understand how artist types, including myself, may be especially prone to these feelings. It may be because we tend to have a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity to our surroundings. This sensitivity can sometimes lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious. Many of us also tend to be perfectionists which can also lead to anxiety. This anxiety includes being in constant state of criticizing oneself because “good” never seems “good” enough.
So why, as Christian artists, should we be especially concerned about these feelings? There are two reasons. One reason is that this feeling can lead us down a path of stifled creativity and a diminished drive to engage in our artist work. And, as this work is a gift and a calling given to us by our Creator, it is very important that we do not allow negative feelings, thoughts and emotions to stifle it. The second reason is that being overwhelmed and anxious in this life is NOT how God wants us to live. Given this, I would like to start by exploring what the bible has to say about the feeling of being overwhelmed.
In scripture the apostle Mark tells of a time when Jesus, knowing the great trial, pain and suffering ahead of him said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch. Going a little farther he fell to the ground and prayed” (Mark 14:33-35). Let’s break these verses down a bit. First off, don’t you find it reassuring, to learn that even our Lord Jesus had such times of feeling overwhelmed and anxious? We do not live in a bubble of isolation where no one understands our pain. Jesus understands it! “My soul,” he says “is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of DEATH.” His suffering is so strong that he describes it to his good friends as sorrow and death.
He goes on to asks his friends for help. “Stay here and keep watch,” he tells them. When you’re feeling overwhelmed do you reach out to your friends, your “tribe” of fellow artists and Christians? Maybe attend an artist’s retreat, join an art club, get together with friends to create art. God’s perfect plan includes placing us in community with other believers and artists who can listen, care and maybe help.
What does Jesus do next? He goes straight to prayer. “…he fell to the ground and prayed.” Jesus, who is our model in all things, shows us how to deal with feeling overwhelmed…turn to God in pray. Jesus himself said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). He is there if you just seek him and ask for His guidance and help. God’s perfect plan for us is that we would live joyful, productive lives, in communion with him, engaged in our community and in activities that bring glory to Him.
Acknowledging that creating art can be both physically and mentally exhausting is also important. This exhaustion can help contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious. Add to that the constant stress of deadlines, high cost of supplies, entering art shows only to have your piece rejected, time constraints…the list goes on and on. Are you taking time to rest and recharge your creative battery? I recharge by engaging in other types of art like singing in choir, seeing a good movie, going to a gallery, reading and writing. I also spend time alone. My “quiet time” is extremely important to me. How did Jesus recharge? The Bible tells us, “Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'” (Mark 6:31) I love this quote by Saint Francis de Sales who was a Roman Catholic bishop and doctor in the 16th century; “Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself.” Be patience with yourself. Give yourself a break. Get some rest.
Another helpful attitude I have developed over the years is to think of my art as a process not a product. Try creating art just for the sheer joy of it. With no preconceived ideas. I think that creating art should be like going on an unplanned road trip, full of fun and adventure. Try not to approach it with feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious. Surrender the notion of constantly trying to control the outcome. Rethink how and why you create. A resource I would highly recommend is a book by Steven Aimone called “Expressive Drawing, A Practical Guide to Freeing the Artist Within.” This book is a colorful fun “workshop” full of examples and inspiration that will help you rediscover the fun adventure that creating should be.
If you’re a creative type or any type who has been feeling overwhelmed and anxious remember:
- Pray every day, constantly.
- Spend time with your tribe.
- Don’ t be afraid to ask for help.
- Take time to rest and recharge.
- Rethink how you think about and approach each project.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18